[-empyre-] netopticon and personal culture

Jon Thomson j.thomson at ucl.ac.uk
Thu Jan 20 22:25:43 EST 2011

Thanks Davin for your comments and speculation here, put far better than we ever could have.

A few quick comments:

> Language and culture can as something other
> than a prison house....  but as a refuge from a rather rigid existence
> dictated by its absence, which is difficult to even conceive of, where
> daily life is similar to breathing.

This seems to be a productive way of looking at language and by association consciousness and abstract thought.  Similarly, David Deutsch of quantum computing fame uses mathematical logic to illustrate the value of these human capacities (and the importance of knowledge) in this ted lecture: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/david_deutsch_on_our_place_in_the_cosmos.html

> In other words, when we step into
> culture, we step into temporality.  When we step out of culture, we
> step into something that resembling raw gestures in service of
> metabolic processes.  

Presumably you don't mean anything ecclesiastical by 'temporality' here ;)  Given that our digital networks and server farms keep the majority of everything stored, copied and replicated online, temporality, simultaneity (of information), ubiquity and persistence (of information) all seem to be key properties that modulate and inform our view and experience of the Netopticon at least.

We made an artwork in 1998 called Speaking in Tongues (http://www.thomson-craighead.net/docs/speak.html) that presented a narrative array of mobile phone calls we had scanned from the surrounding area of Hoxton in London.  'Viewers' were invited to navigate and listen to the calls by listening to the gallery wall with a stethoscope.  At the time of making this work, there was much debate about invasiveness of scanning a mobile phone conversation (this was before the network was encrypted digitally) and whenever we spoke about the work in lectures in the years that followed, issues about privacy and the status of analogue mobile phone 'space' would tend to come up.  However, as the years have passed, these issues have come up less and less often and perhaps the last few times we have shown this work no-one has mentioned it at all and we wonder why that is especially in the light of current controversy in Britain over phone hacking by journalists (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1198395/Ex-Sun-editor-Rebekah-Wade-phone-tapped-journalists-News-World.html).

It may be of course that people just don't even think about it today because we are so used to being observed through our social self-surveillance practices online, but we think it is largely about the temporal proximity to the material that transforms surveillance data (the mobile phone calls from 1998) into social history (in 2011) simply because they are now over ten years old, but we wonder how this kind of temporal proximity functions and feedsback on itself in the netopticon as we are discussing it here?  One aspect to this work when we made it was wanting to reveal this fairly public space to ourselves, because the only people using cell phones at that time who seemed to be aware of how observable their activity was were drug dealers and other criminals, who would always converse obliquely and euphemistically.

And in this sense the Netopticon as conceit, metaphor and/or reality is useful, because being aware of it reminds us that we are acting in public and that in some sense the Netopticon is a Theatre.

> I was listening to my radio and heard Sherry Turkle on
> NPR talking about robots that "need" our love...  and she mentioned
> that in her research she has met a number of young people who have
> grown up within a digital culture, who are actually seeking out more
> "authentic" experiences by leaving things like Facebook behind.

Turkle's separation here is interesting implying a journey from facebook back into physical space, whereas really they are more like simultaneous layers where a facebook update (for example) is made in a cafe, while drinking coffee, or during a boring lecture, or in the back of a taxi while chatting with a friend.  Just as 'techne and poesis' might be not be progressively divergent, but cyclical and variable in fine art (as we suggest), nostalgia is probably a cyclical thing also (the grass always being greener and all that), but rather than there being traffic between virtual and physical space, it's more like switching modes of attention or emphasis in activities, and at present of course we are always in physical space and intermittently tapping into virtual space. 

Jon & Alison

More information about the empyre mailing list